Seek the Lord for May by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati ordains men to the priesthood each May. This is also a popular month for weddings. That is probably a coincidence, but an appropriate one.
Matrimony and Holy Orders (which includes the permanent diaconate) are both important sacraments that, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, consecrate recipients for their stations in life. Traditionally, they have been called “sacraments of vocation.”
The Catechism refers to matrimony and holy orders as “sacraments at the service of communion.” Why? Because “they are directed toward the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God” (CCC 1534).
In other words, neither vocation exists solely for the personal happiness of the recipient. That is not well understood in our culture, particularly in the case of marriage. The Church has a great interest in civil law regarding marriage, even when the unions are not sacramental, because marriage has a profound impact beyond the couples involved.
It is well known that ordinations to the priesthood have declined in western nations since the Second Vatican Council. (The permanent diaconate was restored after the Council.) Less noticed is that weddings also have been on a downward trajectory for decades. To some degree, then, we could say that both vocations have been in crisis.
When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States in 2008, a bishop posed the question, “Holy Father, what can we do to increase vocations?” The pope replied, “Don’t overlook the obvious. Beg the harvest master.”
Several years ago, I requested that every parish in the Archdiocese say the Prayer for Vocations at weekend Masses in particular. This is not just a plea for vocations to the priesthood, but a prayer that each person will discern and respond to God’s call – the Lord’s definite purpose for his or her life. I was confident that if that discernment were to happen, we would see an increase in young men exploring the priesthood. And we have.
We now have 57 seminarians studying to be priests for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, more than double the number we had a decade ago. Our seminary is building a new wing to accommodate the growth we have seen recently and what we expect for the future. And on May 18, I will ordain nine men to the priesthood – the largest ordination class for our Archdiocese in almost 40 years.
There are clear signs that our prayers are being answered, but the need for everyone to respond to God’s vocational call is ongoing. Unfortunately, the number of those receiving the sacrament of matrimony continues its steady decline – to 1,631 Catholic and interfaith weddings in the Archdiocese in 2017 from 4,274 in 1984. Moreover, we still require more priests to replace those who retire or die.
So, let us continue to pray:
You have created us for some definite purpose.
Grant us the grace to know the path You have planned for us in this life and to respond with a generous “Yes.”
Make our archdiocese, parishes, homes and hearts fruitful ground for Your gift of vocations.
May our young people respond to Your call with courage and zeal.
Stir among our men a desire and the strength to be good and holy priests.
Bless us with consecrated religious and those called to a chaste single life, permanent deacons, and faithful husbands and wives who are a sign of Christ’s love for His Church.
We commend our prayer for vocations to You, Father, through the intercession
of Mary our Mother, in the Holy Spirit, through Christ our Lord. Amen.